Small bombs and big bombs – there’s a difference

Even though it’s nearly twenty years since the IRA ended its campaign, there are those in the south and the north who still draw back their garments, as it were, when Sinn Féin passes. As did Prince Philip with Martin McGuinness, presumably because he believed that McGuinness was a leading figure in the IRA at the time of the killing of his uncle Louis Mountbatten, along with several innocent people. Tonight on RTÉ, Miriam O’Callaghan will interview Martin McGuinness. You’ll remember that Miriam is famous for her question to McGuinness during his presidential campaign: “Do you go to confession?”

This drawing-back-of-the-garments thing has to do with the moral repugnanace Prince Philip and Miriam and lots of other people feel for the violence involved in armed conflict, especially when innocent lives are taken in the course of that conflict.

Now, follow me to London, if you will. During the week a memorial pavilion was opened in London’s Green  Park by Queen Elizabeth, with her husband Prince Philip in attendance. It features work by an artist called Liam O’Connor and it depicts the bronze figures of a British bomber crew from the Second World War.  It was created to honour the courage of these bomber crews, which had a 50%+ casualty rate of young men killed and seriously wounded during WWII. The strategy for such crews, devised by Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, was to carpet-bomb German cities such as Hamburg, Cologne and Dresden. The claim was that this sort of bombing would weaken German morale.  As a result, thousands of German civilians died horrible deaths in firestorms brought on by the raids. Nor were these firestorms an unhappy side-effect of the bombing – the RAF deliberately created them by first dropping incendiaries, then high explosives. The argument was that this would hasten an end to the war – the same reason given for the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans.

There are two issues here. One is the justification of these actions on the grounds that they helped hasten the end of war. This is a the-end-justifies-the-means argument and so is morally suspect. It is also based on conjecture – we can’t know whether such actions in fact helped end the war, we can only guess.  The second is that to use this argument and to honour those depicted in these bomber crews stinks of hypocrisy.

The IRA bombing campaign – including the Real IRA’s bombing of Omagh – aimed not to kill civilians, though in several notable cases – Omagh, Enniskillen – it did, killing dozens of innocent people. The bombing raids on Germany and in Japan  were deliberately aimed at killing civilians, and killing them not in their dozens but in their tens of thousands. And yet we have the drawing-aside-of-garments in moral detestation when a former IRA leader passes and statues set in pavilions to honour the courage of bomber crews for killing thousands of civilians.

The taking of human life – any human life – is a terrible thing. But for political and moral leaders to express revulsion at small-scale, often-unintended killing, while building memorials to mass-scale killing always intended, is to display hypocrisy that takes the breath away. 

9 Responses to Small bombs and big bombs – there’s a difference

  1. Neil Burns June 30, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    Jude, you’ve nailed this blog post. I concur with it’s content 100 %. Of course you’ll get the odd bitter and twisted individual who will try and rationalise mass murder but they tend to be demented a bit in the head department. The British war machine is out of control as usual. They have trident and are talking about more nuclear weapons; just shows you how off their heads and drunk on power they’ve become.

  2. JoeMcVeigh June 30, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    The prophets were always pointing out the hypocrisy of the Rulers-and it was good you pointed it out again in relation to the queen of england and the British bombers.They are addicted to violence and killing-in the interests of security. Keep on speaking tyhe truth to the lies, a chara.

  3. Anonymous June 30, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    Jude,how would you categorise the human bomb that was Paddy Gillespie in Derry?Clearly the I R A intended to kill this particular civilian.

  4. giordanobruno June 30, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    There is certainly plenty of hypocrisy in British attitudes to the 2 World wars and indeed to recent conflicts like the Gulf War.
    However this seems to be your stock defence Jude when anyone questions the IRA campaign, and smacks of evasion.
    Was it worth it Jude? All those lives, to get to where we are now?

  5. Anonymous June 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Would Fr Mc Veigh above consider that the I R A bombing campaign was a necessary and Christian one?Would he care to comment on Anonymous (12 03) above ?

  6. Ryanm29 June 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm #


    I’m not sure you can draw such a conclusion.

    I believe that you are wrong to compare wars. Each war has started with different reasons, different motivations have gone into each notable event you’ve mentioned.
    To attempt to draw a conclusion that because the Brits bombed Dresden or because the US bombed Hiroshima then its okay(or at least makes anyone a hypocrite for critising) for the IRA to ‘accidentally’ bomb Omagh and kill 27 people is assuming people are simpletons.

    I think you’re a) playing to your republican mates who hate the Brits sooo much that you’ll get a cheer and b) only going to convince anyone who has barely two brain cells to rub together that your argument holds water. I dont really feel you are bringing anything to the discussion other than more mindnumbing propaganda for your cause.

    Do you really think that you are helping to convince unionists that a united ireland is the way forwards?

    You cannot compare total war with terrorism. If you use the ‘it was a war, not terrorism’ then you open yourself to criticism for why you harp on about every single victim who was killed by the security forces…

    Can you have a hierarchy of killing? -yes.
    Can you have a hierarchy of victims? -yes.

    On a separate note, if you really want an Ireland of equals, do you think that perhaps its time to accept that quite a few irishmen have taken part in world wars against, facism, millitarism because they BELIEVED in their cause? Maybe accept that many people’s view of wW2 was that it was a necessary evil?

    You cannot possibly suggest that the omagh bomb was a necessary evil.

  7. Mick July 1, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Tough comparison.

    WW2 was a big conflagration and involved lots more people dying than we ever dreamed of in Northern Ireland. Dresden was also a big big and spectacular event, but it fades in comparison with what else was going on at that time

    For a moment lets look briefly at proportions. The median figure for civilian casualties is 66% of all WW2 fatalities. This includes Dresden, Bergen-Belsen, Coventry, et al. By comparison over thirty years of the Troubles the proportion is 56%.

    The real difference is context. Recent research puts the number of deaths in Dresden on two nights in February 1945 at around 18,000 and definitely no more than 25,000. That compares to 1000 deaths by German bombs on just one night in Belfast in May 1941.

    By contrast in the same war, Hitler took 6 million Jewish lives and 5 million others – including about 2 million Soviet civilian deaths with a similar number of Soviet military deaths.

    As regarding our local difficulties, responsibility for deaths in the troubles on an organisational basis runs like this (with the deaths they were responsible for following in brackets:

    Security forces: 367 (1012)
    Republican paramilitaries: 2152 (395)
    Loyalist paramilitaries: 1112 (167)

    So for every member civilian killed by the security forces, three members of the security forces were killed. For every Republican killed they killed nearly six (and half). Loyalists killed eight for every one of theirs killed.

  8. Anonymous July 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Good to see Mr Fealty crossing over from Slugger with opinions based on facts and statistics rather than some of the polemics we are used to on this site.

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